Read an Excerpt
A few years back I had a very hectic life and an even more hectic work schedule, the pace of which was probably not all that different from yours. Over the previous fifteen years I managed my own real estate investing business, I ran seminars, and I wrote a book on real estate investing. I got into real estate because I didn't know what else to do, and once I was in I never had the time to figure out how to get out.
Eventually I was working sixty hours a week and was seldom able to spend quality time with my family and friends or even to have time on my own to relax and just putter around the house. I rarely took a vacation and almost never thought about how work had taken over my life.
One day, while looking at my to-do lists, I realized how complicated and out of balance my life had become. I decided right then and there that it was time to simplify. I started by getting rid of a lot of the clutter. I streamlined the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, and the other household routines; I minimized my wardrobe and drastically changed my consumer habits; and I learned how to say no to the demands on my time.
I also cut back my work schedule. It was a step-by-step process, but by working less I found that I was not only more productive, I also had the time to be more creative and to think about what I wanted to do with my life. Over the next several years I saw that it was time to let go of the real estate business completely. It seemed the height of insanity to spend the majority of my time doing something I didn't truly enjoy.
Then, when people started asking me how I had simplified my life, I took the leap and wrote a book about it. That book, Simplify Your Life, became a bestseller. With all the media interviews, the promotional tours, and another book in progress, my work life suddenly had the potential to get complicated all over again. But I was committed to keeping life simple, which I've done. As my writing career developed, I gradually went from my frenetic sixty-hour week to working roughly half that time.
Since then I've come to a new understanding about my life, my work, and my reasons for working. I believed for years that I was working for the money. But I found, as many people have, that money simply isn't reason enough to keep up the grind. I found, as many people are finding, that I'm most productive, most committed, most happy, and most financially rewarded when I love the work I do.
So, contrary to what some may believe, simplifying is not about retreating to a cabin in the woods and leading a dull, inactive existence. Rather, cutting back your hectic work pace gives you the opportunity to make sure that you're doing work you love. If you're not, you can change what you do. Simplifying will also help you create the balance you're seeking in your work life, your family life, and your personal life. Out of that balance you'll have more clarity and enthusiasm to meet your goals. You'll learn how to achieve the success you want without stress and overwork. And simplifying will give you the time to develop a rich and rewarding inner life. Having that inner connection will make it so much easier to move beyond society's demands and expectations about work.
You might have any number of reasons to simplify your work life and any number of goals in mind for doing so.
You may be looking for ways to cut back on the amount of time you work so you'll have time to spend with your family and to do your own puttering around the house. I'll share many ways to free up more time in Parts 1 and 2.
You may love your work but feel that the demands on your time keep you from getting as much done each day as you know you could. In Part 3 I'll show you how to be more productive so you can can cut back on the number of hours you work each week.
You may find that one of the reasons you work so much is that you just can't say no and that inability to set appropriate boundaries keeps you chained to your job. I'll show you some things I've learned about setting boundaries and working effectively with others in Part 4.
You may be intrigued by the idea of simplifying your work life but believe that it's just not possible financially for you to change the way you work. In Part 5 I'll show you how to address the financial issues that may be keeping you locked into a work situation you're not happy with and how to build a new level of financial freedom and security for you and your family.
You may want to restructure your current work by telecommuting, job sharing, arranging a more flexible schedule, or even starting your own business. The opportunities for new ways to work are practically unlimited today. I'll discuss many of these options in Part 6.
You may be tied to outdated ways of thinking about your work and the hours you must spend earning a living, but you should know that there's a whole new world out there now. Just changing the way you think about work will give you a new lease on your work life. You'll find some ways to do that in Part 7.
Though many of the ideas in this book describe office situations, they're relevant for all walks of life. No matter what kind of work you do, you'll find numerous ways to cut back, work more effectively, set appropriate boundaries, become more efficient with your money, and begin to take advantage of the changes that are happening in the workplace.
I invite you to join me in moving with purpose and intention to a simpler work life. This might appear to be a gigantic leap from where you're standing, but once you start the process you'll be able to look back and see that it was really quite a small step. That step is to decide, right now, that you'll do what it takes to keep your work in balance with the rest of your life.
I've been where you are now. I know how challenging it can be to change the way you work. But if I did it and, as we'll see thousands of others are doing it you can, too. Come along with me. Let me show you how you can change the way you work so you have more time to live.
Cutting Back on the Amount of Time You Work
1. Join the Revolution
If you're thinking of cutting back on the amount of time you work, you're not alone. Thousands of American workers are cutting back. After nearly a quarter century of exhausting work schedules, we're coming to our senses and starting to make some changes. A recent Yankelovich poll shows that we're changing how much we work: One in five of us says we've taken a cut in pay to work less. We're changing how we work: Nearly half say we've changed jobs to have more family time. We're changing the way we think about work: Eight out of ten people say we admire someone who puts family before work.
Look around. You probably know people who've cut back their work schedules, who've moved to worker-friendly offices, who've created a more flexible schedule, or who have in one way or another made significant changes in the way they work. Certainly you've read about them. Practically every magazine or newspaper you pick up these days has a story about how people are looking for more balance in their lives and have made the decision to work less. And their numbers are growing every day. The Families and Work Institute reports that in a survey conducted in 1992, 47 percent of the respondents said they wanted to work less; in 1997, 63 percent said they wanted to work less. According to the Trends Research Institute, simplifying will continue to be one of the leading trends of the new millennium.
In addition to the millions of baby boomers who're cutting back, there are millions of GenXers coming into the workplace who've seen their parents burn out working long hours for companies that didn't value their efforts or treated them as a disposable resource. Many of these new workers want to create a more balanced work life than their parents had. I believe there'll soon come a time when our work schedules of the last two decades are seen as a period of temporary cultural insanity.
I invite you to join me and thousands of others in cutting back on the amount of time you work. In this part I'll describe a variety of ways that helped make it possible for me to cut my work schedule from sixty hours a week to roughly thirty. Obviously this didn't happen overnight, and many of the steps I talk about throughout the book helped as well. But freeing up some of the big chunks of time, as I discuss here, is a good place to start.
Copyright © 2001 Elaine St. James